...64 years ago Joe's birthday and the Cease Fire in Korea occurred within days of each
July 1953 was a big month for Joe Rattigan. July 19 was his 23rd birthday and eight
days later the Cease Fire took effect. There is no Joe Rattigan, of course, itís just a
name I made up so I could write about what happened while I was in Korea. Although Joe
Rattigan is a made-up name all the Joe Rattigan stories are true. All the names, places
and adventures are real. The story you are about to read now is not about a character
named Joe Rattigan but about the guy who made him up, me, Joe Sullivan.
When I was preparing to move to the condo I live in now, my grandson, Johnny ickodemus,
and my youngest son David were the ones who had the job of clearing out the attic in
the house where I had lived for 50 years. When they finished this grubby job they
looked like they had been working in a coal mine.
There were some discoveries, of course, of forgotten things that had been stored long
ago. They must have had some value then but were only curiosities now and,
consequently, were stuffed into big, green plastic bags that eventually accumulated
into a mountain of trash on the sidewalk curbstone at the front of my house.
The mound was so big that the trash guys would not take all of it and drove away
leaving a significant pile. Rather than bellyache to the city my oldest son Tony and I
moved the remaining pile into the garage and left it until the following week when we
put it out on the curb again. Maybe the trash guys took this smaller pile as a sign of
compromise because this time they took all of it.
Everything wasnít trash. Pausing during the cleanup my son David passed me a paper
bundle and said, ďDad, I think youíre going to want to take a look at this.Ē He was
referring to a dust covered chewed- up manila envelope. I opened it to find a thick
packet of envelopes, each one with a red-white-and-blue boarder marked Via Air Mail and
with a post mark that, in some cases, had completely faded out. Every address was
in my handwriting and was addressed to my mother at our home in Malden.
It occurred to me these must be the letters I had written to my mother while I was in
the Army. This collection included the ones I had written when I was in Basic Training
and Radio School at Fort Dix, New Jersey. She had saved everything.
I havenít read all of them yet but they had been saved in the order which I had written
them. I was especially interested in finding the one I wrote right after the cease fire
took place in Korea. I found it. The post mark on the envelope almost invisible but I
had dated the letter inside. August 6, ten days after the start of the cease fire, 18
days after my 23rd birthday. The letter itself says that I had written a week earlier
but I canít find that one. Maybe it never got there. Things were pretty screwed up
just before the cease fire. May through July involved some of the heaviest fighting of
I never wrote anything that I thought would worry my mother. But, she knew where I was.
What youíre about to read now is a letter written by a 23-year old soldier to his
mother, 64 years ago.
Hdqtrs 8th F.A.
Got your letter this afternoon. Your regular mail is more than welcome. As usual things
around here are a little dull. I hope you got my letter that I wrote last week. There
is no cause to worry about anything.
The NEMLICO (New England Life Insurance Company) mailed a check
for five bucks to make my birthday a little brighter. It was swell of them to do it but
I donít know where the hell Iíll get it cashed. The mail clerk goes back to Finance
about once every two months so I donít know what to do with it. Maybe Iíll stick it in
soldierís deposit or something thatís one way to get rid of it.
As the war has ended things have become a little more
disciplined as you can imagine. Physical Training and all that baloney. We march every
morning now and then try to look busy for the rest of the day. Starting Monday we will
have classes on the uses of equipment which are employed in a Field Artillery Battalion
which should make for some fun since everybody knows how to use the stuff
backwards and forwards anyway.
Naturally, you know what Iím thinking of most now. More and
more of my old friends are going home and after this month Iíll be the oldest man in
the radio section. My buddies, Fish and Gootch, went last month and since then Iíve
been a little lost. Not that the newer guys arenít swell but after youíve lived night
and day with somebody you get to know them very well and miss
them like hell when they go home. When I get home Iím going down to see them. They are
two wild and crazy Eyetalians but wonderful guys. This will give me an excuse to see
Well, Mamma, I donít know what to say now. Iím thinking so much
of home lately that itís pathetic and when I write to you even more so. I just hope the
time will keep slipping by until I can get on the boat.
Please thank Dean Cogswell for my birthday present. Iíll try to
write him a letter.
My love to everyone.
Mamma-san, a contrived, humorous adaption of the Korean expression of
respect, ďPappa-san,Ē for an older male person
NEMLICO, or New England Mutual Life Insurance Company is where Joeís
mother was employed and where he worked part time while waiting to be called up
Ralph, ďFishĒ Deseo and Frank ďGoochĒ Fallella were Joeís best pals.
They were both from the same neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York where they had both
grown up. Joe did ďgo downĒ to see them.
Uncle Jimmy was Joeís motherís brother. He was Rod and Gun Editor of
the New York Daily Mirror the Hearst newspaper in New York City.
Dean Cogswell was what now is called the Human Resources person. Joe
does not recall ever writing him a thank-you letter.
July 7, 2017